Members of the Wood-Warblers’ family, Yellow-rumped Warblers are one of the earliest Warbler species to arrive in the West Valley. There are two main populations: “Audubon’s” breeds mainly in the mountains of the western U.S. and into British Colombia; “Myrtle” breeds from the eastern U.S. across Canada to Alaska.
John James Audubon described the diminutive (4.25″) Violet-green Swallow as “the most beautiful of all the genus hitherto discovered.” Indeed, there are few birds in our neighborhood that can compete when the sun illuminates the iridescent emerald green cape, amethyst and sapphire wings and back set off by a clean bright white belly, neck, and face. Read on for an account of one pair raising their young from a nest under the eaves.
There are indeed tyrants living amongst us. You may not be aware of this, because the ones we see here in the valley are rather inconspicuous. I’m specifically referring to two members of the Tyrant Flycatcher family that make their summer homes here–the Eastern Kingbird and the Western Wood-Pewee.
Spirited, social, active, acrobatic, gregarious, friendly. Maybe I should add ‘compassionate’- see the story below! Watching these little birds as they bounce along on the airwaves on their way to the bird feeder in the morning is mood-lifting. Always on the alert, head switching back and forth, they sound the first alarm when something of concern approaches.
Certhia americana is the only North American member of the Certhiidae (Treecreeper) family. Thanks to its long, thin tail, it measures 5.25 inches, but it appears to be about the same size as a Pygmy nuthatch, with which it could be confused. “A prisoner of the forest, the creeper seems unable to escape the gravitational pull of the tree trunk on which it creeps, ever upward” writes Bryan Pfeiffer. They live in mature coniferous forests, not wandering far afield.
Pat Jaquith’s wonderful post about nuthatches reminded me of how much I enjoy watching them. We have several bird boxes around our house, and pygmy nuthatches will regularly occupy two specific boxes–and, as you’ll see in the videos below, this can lead to some territorial issues.
We hit the jackpot on Nuthatch species– well, almost! Three of the four Nuthatch species in the US live here! We have Red-breasted, White-breasted, and Pygmy Nuthatches. While each has a favored tree species, our mixed forests are great places to see all of them. Nuthatches grab a seed, wedge it into a bark crevice and hammer it open as if using a hatchet – thus, their curious name! They are well-equipped for gleaning insects and seeds from all directions. Their clawed feet hook into bark providing sure traction as they cruise up, down, and around looking for food. While our environment provides everything they need, they are frequent visitors to bird feeders, gardens, and water holes, making even more opportunities to observe their acrobatic talents.
Red Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) are a colorful lot that spend most of their time in the tops of conifer trees where they use their specialized bills to pry open the scales of the cones to retrieve seeds. If you’re fortunate enough to get to know these acrobatic little birds, they will show you many other aspects of their lives.
One of the small birds we enjoy observing throughout the year has an unusually “cute” scientific name: Spinus pinus; its common name is Pine siskin. Pine siskins are especially interesting because their populations change so dramatically from winter to winter. Sometimes we see them, sometimes we don’t.
The valley is home to two bluebirds: the western bluebird and the mountain bluebird. We usually get at least one pair of western bluebirds in one of our birdboxes each spring due to our close proximity to open fields where they like to feed.